There is an undeniable poetry to transportation. The reverie of a train roping across land, the intrepidity of a boat charting depthless waters, the surrealism of an aircraft cutting through cloud—all tracing paths like storylines across terrain, all positioning the passenger as an Odyssean protagonist. In Bilbao-New York-Bilbao, Kirmen Uribe takes the family novel to the skies. Originally written in Basque and published in 2008, this latest edition was published in 2022—translated by American poet Elizabeth Macklin and featuring an incisive new foreword by Lebanese-American writer Youmna Chlala. The first of Uribe’s four novels, Bilbao-New York-Bilbao won the 2009 National Prize for Literature in Spain. True to the timelessly familial tendency of many debut novels, its narrative pulse is Uribe’s desire to excavate his ancestral past, collaging testimonies from disparate historical voices into a cohesive portrait.
The next day, a woman with a little pink umbrella showed up at my house at the crack of dawn. My mother always gets up that freakishly early, and I was up because something kept dinging even though my phone was on silent. It took me a few minutes to figure out that the sound was coming from my computer. I must have left YouTube open when I collapsed after my rant. The dinging was notifications for MakeupontheCheapCheap. I had 81 new followers and 147 new likes, and the count kept climbing.
The neighbor children are in the Evangelical cult that Vice and The Guardian wrote about last year. They’re not allowed to speak to us, which is a thing no one has ever said aloud but is true, nonetheless. This town is full of true things that no one says aloud because we can’t or wouldn’t dare or because no one would believe us anyway.
Marilynne Robinson, I think, or maybe Ruth Ozeki, wrote something about how the wheat here is green before it’s yellow and everyone from elsewhere gets to selectively forget that and picture us golden and glowing year-round.
A man swims to the left of Julia, and a woman to the right. They are blurs of misted goggles, the glint of a silver, latex cap. They flip like sleek fish at the pool’s wall.
Julia is sure they are having an affair. The two showed up at the same time, splitting the three-lane pool with Julia, who had gotten used to swimming alone. At first, she resented the wake of their bodies in the water—that reminder of competitive sport. She watched as they left the pool, noticing the nod, a touch as they crossed paths at the changing room doors.
Julia is a night swimmer. She likes the pool’s cool indoor lights and the way the black winter sky beyond the glass windows feels framed and distant. The goggles distort her peripheral vision—creating a blue shadow that she imagines as one of the sea creatures she and James used to visit at the aquarium when they first met.
If James were at home, she would tell him about the swimmers, but he is in New Zealand, studying the impact of climate change on a fur seal colony.
Under water, Julia feels the shudder of the commuter train as it passes.
From my window I see a boy shaking the bougainvillea for flowers. My parents talk of pruning it. They talk of little else. The tree, spilling wildly past our house into the gulley—where boys come to smoke or piss, lanky against betel-dyed walls—acrid ammonia, posters begging for votes, pink crowning above them. The boys linger even when it rains. Each drop caught briefly under the golden streetlight, and me, holding my breath.